As I sat in a meeting today, I took a moment to look around the room. I saw everything from fidgeting hands, to smiles, to glazed over eyes. Unbeknownst to my coworkers, I was reading how engaged – or unengaged – they were in the conversation.
For most of us, a large part of our day includes interactions with others. But what message do we really send when we speak to them?
According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian’s research, body language accounts for 55% of communication signals, followed by 38% for tone of voice, and only 7% for spoken words.
It should come as no surprise then that body language can have a significant impact on how we’re perceived as professionals.
Here are 9 ways you can keep on climbing that corporate ladder by making sure your actions speak louder than words.
It goes without saying that slumped shoulders and a lowered head indicate a lack of confidence, untruthfulness, or shame.
To convey an image that is confident and ready for action, stand tall with good posture, an elongated neck, shoulders back, and legs slightly apart.
If you’re sitting in a meeting and need a confidence boost, stand up when you’re speaking. Not only does this make you look sure of yourself, it will also project your voice, making it sound more confident as well.
Sitting forward, nodding your head occasionally, and engaging in the conversation shows that you’re actively listening.
We nod to show agreeance or understanding, but some people nod too much. When you become the “bobble head” in the meeting, your nod essentially loses its purpose. Nodding too often is a sign of weakness.
For it to be effective, nod purposefully and selectively only to the points you really agree with. In other words, be an active listener.
Talk With Your Hands…But Don’t Be ‘Big’
Using hand gestures when you’re talking can really animate your presentation. When it comes to talking with your hands though, less really is more.
It’s a common misconception that big hand movements might get more attention when you’re speaking. This is not necessarily true. If you watch most people in powerful positions you’ll see that the majority of them mainly use small hand gestures. These are actually more effective because it allows people to focus on their words.
It also indicates that you’re being open and honest and that you’re credible.
Keep Your Arms in Check
I’m always reminding myself not to cross my arms when I’m having a conversation or in a meeting. It’s a comfortable position, but it can also send the message that you are being defensive or are angry.
Hands on the hips can show that you are ready for action or may seem like you’re giving attitude – so tread cautiously with this one.
Another position to watch for is resting your head in your hand when you’re at a table. This can tell others that you’re bored, tired, or uninterested. Instead, try placing both arms on the desk and making a “steeple” with your hands by touching the tips of your fingers, but leaving the palms separated. This projects confidence and sincerity.
Use a Strong Handshake
One of the very first things I remember learning about the working world is that you need a good, firm handshake.
A limp handshake sends the message that you’re weak or lack confidence. Conversely, a handshake that is too powerful will leave the other person thinking about their throbbing fingers rather than your great presentation. You may need to adjust the amount of pressure you use depending on whose hand you are shaking.
Take note of what others do when they shake your hand and perfect your own shake.
Be Aware of Your Facial Expressions
One raised eyebrow, rolling eyes, frowning mouth, pursed lips – stop it. Stop it all. Unless you’re intentionally trying to convey boredom, anger, or frustration, you need to keep these kinds of facial expressions at bay.
Find your inner zen, put a smile on that face, and try your best to keep your expressions professional.
Keep Your Voice Low and Steady
Speaking with a low and steady voice makes you sound authoritative. Be sure not to allow your voice to rise at the end of sentences when you’re making a point – if your voice rises, it sounds more like a question.
This may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you’re speaking to someone, but the way you position yourself can reveal a lot.
While turning or crossing your legs towards the person shows interest, turning or crossing legs away from them indicates dislike or lack of interest. Sitting or standing side by side may cause a feeling of disconnect and have a negative impact on communication. Positioning yourself face-to-face has the potential to seem confrontational and standing above a seated person can be intimidating.
The best way to encourage open communication is to position yourself on an angle towards the person you’re speaking to, remaining at the same eye level.
Sync Your Words and Actions
Even if you are feigning interest, you should always make sure that your expressions and body language match what you’re saying. When you say one thing, but your body says another, it can make you seem passive aggressive, uninterested, or even untruthful.
Worse still, is no physical feedback at all. When you’re engaged in a conversation, you show it by leaning forward, smiling, raising your eyebrows, nodding your head, etc. When you show no sign of active listening, it tells your colleagues that you don’t care – which can be detrimental to your success.